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Press Releases Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham/Rei Kawakubo explores the intersections between performance and haute couture

Minneapolis, September 6, 2012— The Walker Art Center announces the exhibition Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham/Rei Kawakubo, on view at the Walker from October 4, 2012 to March 24, 2013.

Focusing on the extraordinary costumes that Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo created for Merce Cunningham’s 1997 dance Scenario, this exhibition explores the collaboration between the legendary fashion designer and choreographer.

Kawakubo first started designing under the name Comme des Garçons in 1969, and formally founded her Tokyo- and Paris-based fashion house in 1973. Known worldwide as an avant-garde designer whose conceptual aesthetic is constantly evolving, she and Cunningham shared similar creative philosophies, with interests in engaging multiple artistic disciplines and in aggressively pushing the boundaries of the new and the unknown.

Although collaborations with other artists of all kinds were integral to Cunningham’s vision, his invitation to Kawakubo was the first he made to a designer of haute couture. As with all of his collaborators, he embraced chance, giving Kawakubo free reign to create the costumes and stage design. She initially declined—“not knowing anything about dance, I felt I couldn’t do it,” she said in an interview on the eve of Scenario’s premiere—but changed her mind while creating her notorious 1997 spring/summer “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” collection, which insiders later dubbed the “lumps and bumps” show.

“The feeling was to design the body,” she said of those runway pieces; the costumes she subsequently made for Cunningham’s dancers also featured down padding that formed irregular bulges and protuberances. The garments altered the performers’ proportions and sense of their own bodies, as well as their balance and spatial relations to each other, radically affecting movement itself.

Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham/Rei Kawakubo presents a selection of Kawakubo costume pieces from the Walker’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) collection in a gallery designed to evoke Scenario’s original setting which Kawakubo conceived of as a ultra-white space with fluorescent lighting. Also included is the electronic score for the piece Wave Code A-Z, by MCDC musical director Takehisa Kosugi; performance and rehearsal photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Jacques Moatti; video interviews with Cunningham dancers; Comme des Garçons runway show video footage; and other ephemera.

Over the course of a nearly 70-year career, Cunningham redefined the visual and performing arts through pioneering collaborations with leading artists, designers, and musicians. More than 2,000 objects, including backdrops, set décor, and costumes created by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, John Cage, Frank Stella, and Kawakubo, are now part of the Walker’s permanent collection. Grant funds from the Mellon Foundation will allow the Walker to conduct significant new research on the objects in this landmark collection, as well as on the artists who made them and the dancers who performed with them.

The exhibition is the third in a series of research exhibitions drawing from the MCDC Collection, acquired in 2011 (the other two focused on Cunningham’s collaborations with Robert Rauschenberg and Ernesto Neto).

Exhibition Curator

Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham/Rei Kawakubo is curated by Betsy Carpenter, curator, visual arts at the Walker Art Center.


Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham/Rei Kawakubo is organized by the Walker Art Center.

The acquisition and exhibition of works from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company archive is made possible by generous support from Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, the MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation, Linda and Lawrence Perlman, Goodale Family Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, David Teiger, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011. Media partner Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Merce Cunningham, Scenario, 1997

Dancers Derry Swan (left) and Michael Cole.

Photo: Jacques Moatti